The Difference Between Insights and Thinsights

February 19, 2016

By Nancie Ruder, ANA Faculty

Marketing success is simple: Brand marketers who truly understand their customers create engaging and successful new products and communications, and through those successes, reap the benefits of increased sales and engagement. Meanwhile, those who don’t understand their customers fail to connect and fall further behind.

Luckily, anyone can learn to be a better customer-centric marketer, whether you’re starting from zero or already devoted to this approach. Along with my team at Noetic Consultants, we leverage a powerful strategic framework for putting the customer at the center of your marketing initiatives. It’s known as the WHO WHAT HOW method. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Focus first on WHO your customer is in order to develop deeper insights about their unmet wants and needs
  • Understand WHAT attributes of your offering can best address your customer’s unmet needs or wants
  • Determine HOW to most effectively communicate with your target customer via strong briefs, more effective creative development, and choosing the right communication channels

At the intersection of the WHO WHAT HOW framework are consumer insights. An insight is an undiscovered or forgotten truth that reveals a deep knowledge of the consumer. When properly leveraged, it will lead to a connection between your product and the life of your target consumer. When you think you have arrived at an insight but aren’t entirely sure, ask yourself the following: 

  • Does this observation articulate a revelation or discovery?
  • Does it produce a clearer understanding of a complex situation?
  • Does it explain WHY someone thinks or acts as they do?
  • Does it articulate an unmet need or want?
  • Does it feel emotional and human?
  • Is it a true INSIGHT or is it a THINsight that doesn’t go deep enough? Could you ask WHY again?

Once you go over this checklist and figure out where your true consumer insights are, you will be ready to create more effective new products and marketing campaigns.


Nancie is a former University of Chicago Dean’s Business Distinction award winner. She has over two decades experience in marketing strategy and consumer research. In 2002, she launched Noetic Consulting. 

Learn more at the upcoming Strategic Customer-Centered Marketing workshop, led by Lauren Stradley, senior strategy consultant at Noetic Consulting. Lauren is a Eugene Kummel Scholar and received her M.B.A. from Yale University. She has more than 15 years of experience in brand management and marketing. 

(image credit: gingerwisl/

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